7 home hacks that could spare you an expensive insurance claim

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Your Money, Your Future

7 home hacks that could spare you an expensive insurance claim

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Are you taking the right steps to avoid an expensive homeowners insurance claim?

About 1 in 15 insured homes has a property damage claim in a given year, according to Insurance Information Institute calculations.

As part of its 2017 Risk Index, Travelers insurance company surveyed 1,016 consumers this spring about which prevention measures they do (and don't) take to better protect their home. Here are seven to consider:

  • Use smoke detectors

    Consumers who do this: 82%

    Fire claims are somewhat rare, with fire and lightning affecting 1 in 290 insured homes each year, according to the Insurance Information Institute. But they tend to be the most severe losses, averaging $43,983.

    Scarier: 3 in 5 home fire deaths occurred in residences that either had no smoke alarms or none that worked, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

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  • Clean dryer vents

    Consumers who do this: 66%

    This housekeeping task is critical fire prevention. The association estimated that from 2010 to 2014, U.S. municipal fire departments responded to 15,970 fires each year that involved a clothes dryer or washing machine. More than 9 in 10 involved a clothes dryer.

    The leading cause? Failure to clean the appliance. The association says that failure contributed to ignition in one-third of the dryer fires.

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  • Monitor appliances in use

    Consumers who do this: 62%

    Don't set the dishwasher, clothes washer or dryer to run just as you're heading out the door. There's plenty that can go wrong, from dryer fires (see above) to washing machine floods, said Pat Gee, senior vice president of claim at Travelers. Such nonweather water damage is common and costly, with an average loss of $8,861.

    "It's amazing how fast that water can flow," he said.

    If you're present, you may be able to spot the problem faster and limit the damage.

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  • Annually review coverage

    Consumers who do this: 54%

    Make it a point to do a thorough review of your homeowners or renters coverage each year. That helps ensure you aren't underinsured or have any other gaps that could hurt you.

    Key to note: any changes, like renovations, that added to the value of your home or an expensive new possession that needs its own insurance rider.

    "We're all really busy, and it's sometimes hard to take time out and think about that," Gee said.

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  • Use a home security system

    Consumers who do this: 30%

    Theft is the fourth-most-common homeowners insurance claim, affecting 1 in 235 insured homes each year, according to Insurance Information Institute calculations. The average loss is $3,990.

    If you're not sold on a security system, there are other precautions you might take, including securing your valuables and updating your policy to cover expensive items. Let your insurer know what steps you've taken: many offer discounts for precautions like security systems, deadbolt locks and home safes.

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  • Remove snow from your roof

    Consumers who do this: 23%

    Ice dams can be an under-the radar risk from winter storms. Left uncleared, the snow layers can partially melt and then refreeze, blocking drains and resulting in water that flows through the roof and into your home.

    The cheapest fix is a roof rake, which lets you clear the roof edges of snow while you stay safely on the ground.

    "That goes a very long way to preventing what can be a very expensive event," Gee said.

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  • Use water-leak sensors

    Consumers who do this: 14%

    "We think [a leak sensor] is one of the simplest and low-cost means people can employ to make sure they don't have a significant water loss," Gee said.

    It's not a minor risk: 1 in 50 homes has a property damage claim related to water damage or freezing each year, making it the second-most-common claim, according to Insurance Information Institute calculations. Small leaks can also pad your utility bills.

    Placed near a potential trouble spot (say, behind the dishwasher, under the sink or next to the basement sump pump), basic sensors sound the alarm when they detect water. Smart versions are capable of sending alerts to your cellphone, and in some networked systems, pre-emptively shutting off the home's water, Gee said.

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